The 2011 class is defined by the high-end talent in the trenches, particularly on offense, and there are an unprecedented three five-star tackle prospects. Currently Christian Westerman (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) holds the No. 1 ranking, but an argument could be made that fellow top-10 overall players Cyrus Kouandjio (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha) and La'El Collins (Baton Rouge, La./Redemptorist) also deserve to be called the top tackle prospect in the country.
The debate as to who is the clear-cut No. 1 offensive tackle will continue through the fall and even possibly up to national signing day. One of the best settings to make our final evaluations will likely be during all-star season as Kouandjio joins Westerman and Collins at the fourth annual Under Armour All-America Game on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011 (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). Kouandjio is the latest to join the roster, which now includes 78 of the nation's top prospects. In addition to the game, featured as part of ESPN's BCS college bowl week, practices will provide an opportunity to see the players in head-to-head action and often provide highlight reel plays daily. The practices, which will be shown on ESPNU, are as intense as the game.
Kouandjio is an impressive-looking prospect physically and possesses ideal measurables (6-foot-7, 325 pounds) and rare athleticism not often found at that size. While Westerman is the most dominant run-blocker and Collins sets the bar in pass protection, Kouandjio has arguably the highest ceiling to develop into the most well-rounded tackle in college. His upside is off the charts and he's excited about the bowl game-type atmosphere all week, where he can demonstrate his skills and have a chance to compete versus some of the best in the country.
"It all sounds like a good experience, can't get any better than this," said Kouandjio, who has never been to Disney World (practices will be held at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex). "It's been a goal to be an All-American since I first saw the game a few years ago."
One of the most sought-after prospects in 2011, Kouandjio has narrowed his list down to 11, but will not take any visits until after the season. His final 11 schools (in alphabetical order) are Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Miami, Maryland, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, USC and Virginia. It will be a tight window and a whirlwind recruiting process for him to make his decision, as Kouandjio has talked about enrolling early.
Still, while recruiters let him know he is one of the best, Kouandjio is not big on rankings. He said he is aware of Westerman and Collins and how good they are, but he's not interested in who ends up the No. 1 offensive lineman. He looks forward to meeting them and just getting better by being around them.
"It's all good," Kouandjio said. "I think we can feed off each other and see what we've all learned [at the position]."
They may quickly be exchanging ideas on how to pass block athletic defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (Rock Hill, S.C./South Pointe), the No. 1 prospect in the country. While the team rosters have yet to be announced, Kouandjio, Westerman and Collins will have a chance to test their skills against perhaps the best defensive end we have evaluated since the inception of the ESPNU 150. Pass blocking is one area Kouandjio could polish, but he's still very good, despite playing in a run-oriented offense at DeMatha High School.
For now, the No. 6 overall player in the country appears more focused on enjoying the experience. While you have to commend the fact that he does not get caught up in the recruiting hype, the fact remains fans everywhere will be curious to see how these three extremely talented and closely rated tackle prospects perform and the Under Armour All-America Game and practices leading up to the game will be a great platform for a head-to-head competition.
Kouandjio may be playing it cool now, but he said that all could change once he puts on the shiny Under Armour helmet and "gets in his comfort zone."
And that's enough to make defensive linemen awfully uncomfortable.
Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for ESPN Recruiting and has close to a decade of coaching experience at the college and high school levels.